Nuclear Option is a derogatory term employed by Republicans to describe the action taken in the U.S. Senate this week to remove the 60 vote requirement for affirmation of presidential nominees to lower court (Not Supreme Court) positions and other positions in the administration. Republicans, who have enjoyed the filibuster capability and the requirement of a 60 vote approval, were incensed when Majority Leader Harry Reid led his fellow Democrats into action which returned the required vote necessary to a simple majority (51 votes.) It means that such approval can come without needing even one Republican vote.
At another level, it allows the President to fill the empty seats in one of the most significant courts in the Capital District, where challenges to Senate legislation are heard regularly. It may give an advantage to more progressive legislation which has been held hostage by the Republicans on numerous occasions.
Republicans have stormed around Washington (before heading out for a long vacation) saying that the Democrats have destroyed the integrity of the Senate. They proclaim that this action has destroyed the constitutional intent of the Founding Fathers. Accusations of manipulation and unconstitutional control of the Senate have been loud and passionate.
What the Republicans aren’t saying is that this action was taken because Republicans insisted upon playing a power game in the Senate, refusing to approve nominees simply as an act to affront the Democrats. They have admitted on a number of occasions that the nominees are well-qualified and decent people who probably could serve well in the positions for which they have been nominated by President Obama. But the action to refuse to approve them is a way of sending a message about a piece of legislation they didn’t like, an election result they refuse to accept, or just a plain old digging in their heels to embarrass the President. If this had been occasional or infrequent it probably wouldn’t have called for such drastic action. But it was constant, destroying the Senate’s ability to do the work it is required to do.
There was little celebration among Democrats. They recognized their action as being necessary in order for the Senate to get back to work. But they also recognize that the move could come back to smack them in the face if the Republicans gain control of the seats in the Senate. Some have said that regardless of that possibility, it is a fair and just action which embraces good governance.
The blustering of the Republicans makes them look like children who have lost a game. They stomp their feet and threaten to take the ball and go home.
There was nothing nuclear about the Democrats’ action. It was significant and it was dramatic. The Democrats had threatened to go there for quite some time if things didn’t change. When the Republicans again refused to approve judicial nominees the President had brought forth, Reid and his senatorial leaders knew the time was right. Nobody was killed. Nobody was maimed. It wasn’t a nuclear blast in any sense of the word. Instead, it was like a laxative that allowed the process to go forward. The Senate has been in a state of constipation for too long.
Photo Credit: New Republic